Monday, December 26, 2005

Treasure troves of knowledge and an innate sense of well-being

Reviving an ancient language. Samskrita Bharathi is continually making efforts to reintroduce Sanskrit in Indian communities over which its hold is fast loosening, writes
S RADHA PRATHI. Deccan Herald » Spectrum Tuesday, August 16, 2005
The moment one hears the word Sanskrit, one associates the word with the intellectual elite. It speaks of a rich cultural past, the incomprehensible treasure troves of knowledge and an innate sense of well-being. Nothing about Sanskrit appears to be contemporary or happening. Yet everything about India is associated with Sanskrit. In fact, the synonym of Sanskrit, called Geervana Bharathi, suggests that it is the language of Bharatha (India). The Indian term for culture - Samskruthi - has been derived from the word Samskriti. In short, Sanskrit is the decoction of the very essence of India. The Indian way of living, the languages that we speak, the religion we follow, the concepts of morals and ethics are but an offshoot of what the language holds in its wide spectrum. This language enjoyed supreme status once upon a time. The syntax, structure, phonetics and grammar of the language have been adjudged as most scientific and precise.
Perhaps the quintessence of the tongue can be best expressed in the words of Sri Aurobindo, “Sanskrit language has been universally recognised by those competent to form a judgement and is one of the most magnificent, the most perfect, the most prominent and wonderfully sufficient literary instrument developed by the human mind.” Yet somewhere along the archives of time Sanskrit was relegated to a corner, crowned as a finer language meant for the scholarly Brahminical race. Sanskrit was excluded from the mainstream and was patronised by the priestly clan to communicate with God in the form of prayers. Interestingly, it is ironical to note that the best literary products of the language display a contrary record. Great Sanskrit works were written by non-Brahmins, Vyasa, the son of a fisherwoman authored the Mahabharata; Valmiki, a hunter, wrote the Ramayana; Kalidas, a shepherd, composed extraordinary plays and poetry, and Jabala, an outcast, compiled the Jabala Upanishad.
The constant invasions and exposure to varied foreign culture made the common man in India lose track of the language over a period of time. He shunned the language unable to cope with its exactness and wholesomeness, switching over to user-friendly dialects. Sanskrit was slowly sidelined and all the Indian languages that we speak today emerged and evolved varying in shades, complementing the region it was adopted by. The education policy put forth by Lord Macaulay nailed the language to irretrievable levels. Yet Sanskrit survived the onslaught because academicians across the globe realised that a wealth of knowledge encompassing all subjects under the sun lay beneath the veneer of this ancient language. The decline of Sanskrit in modern times worried people like Sri Krishna Sastry who agonised at the vistas of learning and research we were losing by forgetting the language. He proposed, “Let service to Sanskrit not stop at worshipping with the language; everyone should be able to speak it. Conversational Sanskrit has to be taught and popularised.” Sri Krishna Sastry, with a group of like-minded friends at Tirupati Sanskrit College, founded Samskrita Bharathi and evolved the “Speak Sanskrit Movement” in 1981 at Bangalore. The Aksharam centre at Girinagar in Bangalore has taken the onus of spreading the spoken language of Sanskrit through extensive Samskritha Sambhashana Shibira, which teaches elementary communication in just ten days. A Sandhya Kendra conducts a five level course sponsored by Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan among a horde of other courses. The Organising Secretary of Samskritha Bharathi exudes the spirit of the language by supplementing a chaste “Hari Om” instead of the customary “Hello” over the telephone. He strongly feels that the only way to resuscitate the language is to speak it.
Surprisingly, it is not at all difficult to comprehend the casual conversation in the language carried on by the inmates of Aksharam though one cannot reply in the same lingo. The atmosphere strongly reminds one of Swami Vivekananda’s words who said, “Sanskrit education must go along with general education because the very sound of the language gives prestige, power and strength to people.” Mr Srikanth Jamadagni, the organiser of the Sandhya Kendra at JP Nagar, realised the virtues of Sanskrit while he attended a Sambhashana Shibira in the US and decided that he should do his bit to contribute to the rejuvenation of the language. He feels that a lot of educated people across the globe, especially Indians, have realised the need of the hour. Mr Balasubramaniam, the President of Sanskrit Lovers’ Association, feels that the misconceptions regarding the language can be best eliminated only when they start speaking the language. Ms Bhatt, a Sevavrathi, feels that the so-called students of Sanskrit who study the language as a part of their academic curriculum are not in a position to speak even elementary sentences in the language. This scenario can change only when people start conversing in the language. Twenty four years after its inception, the organisation has managed to train 70 lakh people to speak the language from all over the world. They have trained over 50,000 teachers and have their own publications, audio/video cassettes; they have also established over 5,000 Sanskrit homes.
They have found Karnataka a veritable haven for their widespread activities which propagates the language. Bangalore functions as the epicenter which co-ordinates with nodal centres at Bidar, Gulbarga, Belgaum, Dharwad, Karwar, Shimoga, Udupi, Tumkur, Kolar, Mangalore and Chamrajanagar. Among the most unusual results of the Speak Sanskrit Movement are those in the two villages of Mathoor and Hosahalli in Karnataka. The movement adopted them as a means to promote spoken Sanskrit. Today, everyone irrespective of caste, creed, educational level and social status speaks Sanskrit with elan. These two villages are known throughout the country. More recently, Samskrita Bharathi succeeded in teaching conversational Sanskrit to the entire tribal village of Mohaka, near Jabalpur. Perhaps the success of Samskritha Bharathi lies in its secular and practical approach while highlighting the linguistic features of the ancient language. The word sanskrita- means “purified, consecrated, sanctified.” The language has by definition always been a ‘high’ language, used for religious and scientific discourse and contrasted with the languages spoken by the people. The oldest surviving Sanskrit grammar dates back to the 5th century BC.
Almost every student of Sanskrit hears the traditional story that Sanskrit was created and then refined over many generations (traditionally more than a thousand years) until it was considered complete and perfect. When the term arose in India, “Sanskrit” was not thought of as a specific language set apart from other languages (the people of the time regarded languages more as dialects), but rather as a particularly refined manner of speaking, bearing a similar relation to common language that “Standard” English bears to dialects spoken in the United Kingdom or United States. Knowledge of Sanskrit was a marker of social class and educational attainment, and was taught through close analysis of Sanskrit grammarians such as Panini. This form of the language evolved out of the earlier “Vedic” form, and scholars often distinguish Vedic Sanskrit and Classical Sanskrit as separate languages. Vedic is the language of the Vedas, the earliest sacred texts of India and the base of the Hindu religion. The earliest of the Vedas, the Rigveda, was composed in the 2nd millennium BC. The Vedic form survived until the middle of the first millennium BC.

apolitical and almost global in its cultural survey

Categorising the colonisers: A Raj Collection; edited by Saros Cowasjee, OUP, 2005 Lata Ramaswamy A collection of four novels reflects life as it was during the ‘Raj’ when the British and French ruled over the country. Deccan Herald » Book Reviews » Sunday, July 17, 2005
Critiquing the critics of India, Sri Aurobindo divided them into three basic categories–the sympathetic, the dispassionate and the hostile. The four novels in A Raj Collection give the reader a sample of each of the three kinds of mindsets identified by Sri Aurobindo. This, coupled with the fact that the selection covers the period from 1857 to the emergence of Independent India, makes it a valuable volume for anyone engaged in trying to understand how the Raj came about, what it was in them and us that made it possible, and how it finally had to come to an end.
The most fascinating of the four novels is Christine Weston’s Indigo. Its canvas is larger than that of the other three because it includes the French in India, in the form of Madame St Remy who has made India her home. What is most relevant to us at this time in this novel is the formulation of a consciousness that is apolitical and almost global in its cultural survey–a formulation that comes about through the interplay between Jacques, the son of Madame St Remy, his friend Hardyal and Hardyal’s father, Ganpat Rai.

A prophetic vision of brave new, love-filled world

THEATRE: MAITHREYI M R Deccan Herald, Sunday, December 07, 2003
Where there is hope there is way. And showing this ‘way of hope’ will be In the Hour of God, an English play brought on stage by Pattabi Rama Reddy Productions. Based on Sri Aurobindo’s magnum opus Savitri, the play invokes the traditional myth of Satyavan-Savitri to narrate a tale of undying love, which can even conquer death. “This script was originally meant to be a film. The original English cinema script was written by T P Rama Reddy. It then passed through several revisions by Dr Chadrashekar Kambar, Rama Reddy himself, Rajeev Taranath, and the final English script was written by Rama Reddy and myself. Dr U R Aanthamurthy was the script consultant. The script consultant for the play is Dr Arshia Sattar,” explains Konarak Reddy, director of the play.
A longstanding cinema project, it never materialised for want of sponsors. Finally, it is coming on stage as a play in English. “This is a tribute to the memory of my mother Snehalatha Reddy, who had a great love for theatre. She founded Madras Players in the early ’60s. I was only a child then and she would take me to rehearsals and plays. In Bangalore, she founded Abhinaya along with Ashok Mandanna. This play is for her and my father, all of 83 now, who essentially wrote this script to highlight Aurobindo’s idea that life is all about hope. ”Basically a musician, Konarak is directing a play for the first time. “But I have all the veterans like Arundathi, Jagdish, and Ashok Mandanna. I have done the music too. It is a fusion of Western and Indian classical styles,” elaborates Konarak who believes that all forms of music can mingle together easily in harmony.
It is the free spirit of Savitri that is being celebrated in this play. There was a context for Aurobindo to create such a ‘free spirit’. For that was the time, as feminist scholar Susie Tharu writes in her essay ‘Tracing Savithri’s Pedigree,’ when writers like Aurobindo, Toru Dutt and Sarojini Naidu found it necessary to “rebut the negative image the British projected (of Indians), and redeem, if not the present, at least the past”. And Aurobindo revived Savitri, who through her purity, power, and love could alone save Satyavan (the nation and the human condition itself) from ‘death’. That such redemption placed an enormous burden on the Indian women who came within its defining scope is another argument. Something that does not really concern In the Hour of God. But “Aurobindo’s Savitri offers the viewer, in these times of pessimism, a vision of hope, a prophetic vision of brave new, love-filled world,” insists Konarak.
Even the traditional attribute ‘Sati Savitri’ is a mere connotation forced on her, whereas, in real, Savitri is “strong and multi-dimensional”. The play promises to be a grand affair, with state-of-the-art audio, video design by Challam Benurkar, sets by John Mathew & Studioline, lighting design by Daniella Zehnder, costumes by Julie Kagti, Sutra and Grasshopper, special visual effects on the backdrop, and thespian actors. In the main cast are Keertana Kumar, Sameer Sheikh and Shiva Subramaniam. They have even reworked the language to make it contemporary and add humour to an otherwise serious play. Narada, the sutradhar, begins the play from Aurobindo’s Ashram in Pondicherry! The play will be staged on December 11, 12 and 13 and tickets are available at K C Das, Casa Piccola outlets, Bombay Store and Supermarket.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

If Kipling is here, so is Aurobindo Ghosh

An Illustrated History of Indian Literature In English Edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra INDIAN ABOVE ALL- Indian literature in English is not, and has never been, all Rushdie and Roy
Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta The Telegraph Friday, February 21, 2003
While welcoming every new novel from Amitav Ghosh, or every new translation into English of a work by Mahasweta Devi, Nirmal Verma or U.R. Ananthamurthy, we ought also to be glad, funnily enough, that Thomas Babington Macaulay, in 1835, issued his famous Minute on Education — for that was how the English language was formally gifted to India. Even if Macaulay’s Minute seriously aimed at only creating a class of Indians who would be “English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect” — English, that is, in every way. Arvind Krishna Mehrotra reminds us in the introduction to the Illustrated History of Indian Literature in English, Macaulay’s Minute did not stop at creating what a Salman Rushdie character dismisses as “bleddy Macaulay’s minutemen”. It went on to create, over time, an English that became Indian in every way.
The language of the colonizers, when adopted for the creative expression of the colonized, could and did become, as in Kylas Chunder Dutt’s A Journal of Forty-Eight Hours of the Year 1945, a language of subversion. And it was such a language that Gandhi used — bringing to his English, with utmost ease, not only the principles of ahimsa and satyagraha, but also that very powerful slogan, “Quit India”. Indeed, as Sunil Khilnani points out in his essay on Gandhi and Nehru, Gandhi wrote with his characteristic wisdom, in one of his last articles in Harijan (January 25, 1948): “The rule of the English will go because it was corrupt, but the prevalence of English will never go.”
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s welcome new literary history traces the complex evolution of Indian literature in English from the year 1800, by which time British dominion in India was virtually complete and when the English language first began to be introduced as an interface with the subjugated people. And it traces this evolution all the way down to the logical conclusion of this process: the growing interest, today, not only in original Indian literature in English, but also in translations from the Indian languages into English — translations that are aimed, moreover, primarily at Indian audiences. Indian literature in English owes its evolution not only to its most famous names, V.S. Naipaul, Rushdie and Arundhati Roy, or to other novelists and creative writers, but also to social reformers, political leaders, scientists, scholar-gypsies, and more. And so the 24 essays in this volume range from Raja Rammohan Roy, Henry Derozio and Michael Madhusudan Dutt, to the diaspora and the “after-Midnight novelists”.
Here, then, is a history that does not claim to be the last word on the subject — and Mehrotra apologizes at the outset for the absence of the art historian, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and of a discussion of periodicals and little magazines in English. Yet, it brings us all the clamour, colour, and diversity of Indian voices that have expressed themselves in English. For it is not, and has never been, all Rushdie and Roy. If Kipling is here, so is Aurobindo Ghosh; and not only R.K. Narayan, but also Verrier Elwin and Nirad C.Chaudhuri, with entire chapters to themselves. The chapters, too, have been written by a diverse panel of contributors — and what this might take away in terms of consistency of tone and treatment, it more than makes up for by way of perspectives. Contributors include Pankaj Mishra on R.K. Narayan (“writing from deep within his small and shrinking world”), Mehrotra himself on A.K. Ramanujan (“a master of disguise”), Shanta Gokhale on the dramatists, and Arshia Sattar, who has herself done an excellent translation of Valmiki’s Ramayana, on translations into English.
This is an illustrated history, and what a difference that makes. I first turned the pages all through to look at the pictures, some of them familiar, others rare and intriguing, and several of them accompanied by marvellous details. First the collage on the cover (though it could have been made less drab) — so many faces, including Ramanujan with his parents’ portrait imprinted on his forehead; Seth, Desai, Ghosh, Sealy; Nehru gazing into the distance, and above them, Imtiaz Dharker’s line-drawing of Nissim Ezekiel, with round spectacles and flowing hair. There are many more delights inside, although the reproductions are of uneven quality.
I was struck by the cover of that interesting 19th-century enterprise, “Mookerjee’s Magazine (New Series) of Politics, Sociology, Literature, Art, and Science, including chiefly History and Antiquities, Geography and Travels, Bibliography and Oriental Literature, Jurisprudence and Commerce, & c”. Elsewhere, a photograph of the forgotten Palghat-born novelist, M. Anantanarayanan, on whose name John Updike composed a poem: “I missed his book, but I read his name” — “I picture him as short and tan./ We’d meet, perhaps, in Hindustan./ I’d say, with remarkable elan,/ Ah, Anantanarayanan —/ I’ve heard of you. The Times once ran/ A notice of your novel, an/ Unusual tale of God and Man.” The final illustration in the book, rather fittingly, is from a production at the Guthrie Theatre of Girish Karnad’s play Nagamandala, in translation.

Monday, December 19, 2005

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Let my life rot in hell, but be world saved

Varnamala: Contemporary Oriya Poetry : An Overview Rabindra K Swain
Radhanath Ray (1848-1908) is the principal architect of the era of initial modernity in Oriya poetry. During the later part of nineteenth century, as in other Indian languages, interaction of the Indian Muse with the Western perceptions starts in Oriya too. With Radhanath modern sensibility enters into Oriya literature. The other noted poets of this period are Gangadhar Meher, Madhusudan Rao and Nandakishore Bal.
In between the eras of “initial modernity” and “neomodernity,” we find the Satyabadi and the Sabuja groups. Gopabandhu Das, Nilakantha Das and Godabarish Mishra are value-teachers in nation-building, life and poetry. Baikunthanath Patnaik is the cynosure of the Sabuja period. Non-Sabuja poets who shine are Kuntala Kumari Sabat, Mayadhar Mansingh, Ananta Patnaik and Radhamohan Gadanayak.
Satchidananda Rautroy is the harbinger of the era of “neo-modernity” in Oriya poetry. As Ramakanta Rath and Haraprasad Das observe, he is the “principal idiom-maker of modern Oriya poeltry.” He has a wide range and a world-view. His phenomenal presence is acknowledged by major poets younger to Rautroy, who have had their own zones since long. This anthology starts with the poems of Satchidananda Rautroy.
A rebel and a romantic, a humanist par excellence, Rautroy has authored numerous works of poetry. His format is mostly sculpturesque, his architectonics neat and elegant. A poet almost having a pact with Time, a poet with macro world-vision and micro attention to details, Sochi Rautroy’s impact has spanned the entire second-half of twentieth century Oriya poetry.
Next to Sochi Rautroy and his peer Ananta Patnaik, it is Guruprasad Mohanty who is reckoned as an icon in contemporary Oriya poetry. With a poetic corpus of hardly twenty poems, he virtually gave up writing. The degree of decadence portrayed in his poems may not be reflective of the reality of Cuttack and Orissa of his times, even his poetry may often mirror too much of Eliot in a desi frame, but the free flowing traits of Guruprasadian lyricism ingrained in his style captivated generations of readers.
Despite his anglicized construct in diction and narration, Ramakanta Rath, especially the early Ramakanta, attracted the attention of critics and younger poets. He has a unique blend of modernist esotericism, sardonic slant and a recurring vein of negation turned into art. A poet of complex man-woman relationship, that borders on oblivion, he has the power of juxtaposing the physical and the metaphysical in a deep dark world of realizations. “I am your husband’s skeleton,” he may tell someone, and “you are my beautiful widow.”
As Jayanta Mahapatra has put it, no major Oriya poet remained wholly uninfluenced by Rautroy, but they have taken different courses in the process of their growth. If Guruprasad remained a “poet of a season” inspiring generations of poets or Ramakanta gradually entered into a mellower world of SriRadha, Sitakant Mahapatra, Soubhagya Kumar Misra and Rajendra Kishore Panda evolved their own diction, a world very much their own.
Sitakant’s vision of a suffering world, perpetually in the process of self-redemption, maintains a strong link with the Oriya tradition and heritage. The ‘sky of words’ has a link with ‘the speckled river.’ A lonesome ‘islander’ may be led towards an ‘oceanization.’
If Sitakant and pre-Sitakant poets tended to be reticent and, often, too undertonal, Soubhagya Kumar and Rajendra Kishore came up with the trait of vigour of Rautroy and, in their own individual ways, charged it with new dimensions and wider connotations. Rajendra refuses to be ‘classified' : “the male, the rebel, the ascetic, the child, the lover, the jester alternate” in poetry, says he. Variegated though, the residual is a positive vision, despite the presentday oddities. He espouses a humanist cause: “Tender is the rebellion;” he is “prepared to bloom with the bud or burst with the bomb, unconditionally," every moment.
Soubhagya is a master micro-observer, turning even trivia into art, enlivened by wit and a racy narrative. His earlier swiftness has turned into sedate subtlety. He continues to take the reader to insightful stumblings. His ‘blind honeybee’ finds honey-saps even in unimaginable founts. Soubhagya and Rajendra, each having distinct ‘creationism,’ have one common point : they have inspired their younger fellowpoets immensely, making them non-hesitant, bold and have ‘oriented them towards poetic freed-speech’ in handling complex and unusual themes. The Oriya poetic diction has become vibrant and resilient in usage and connotation.
Sochi Rautroy’s lineage is very strong. Sitakant, Soubhagya and Rajendra have many peers, with their individual strength. The oracular Dipak Mishra with a strong sense of Clio and other Muses, the automystic Harihar Mishra with his Puri-Mahodadhi waves, the esoteric-intellectual Haraprasad Das with his neo-Charyapadic chants, the creative-errant Kamalakant Lenka with his undying metameaning ramblings, the poet-Adonis J P Das with his neat and symbolic articulations, the eternal adventist Pratibha Satpathy invoking the Lord, Savari-like, or bemoaning the lost child, the ever serene Sourindra Barik : all of them and many others have contributed to Oriya poetry. Jayanta Mahapatra, eminent in Indian-English poetry, has turned bilingual and has published original Oriya poems in several collections. Devdas Chhotray, the truant prince-of-romance, continues his search for evanescent Mallika!
If Brahmotri Mohanty has left the mossyard long back and has entered the sanctum, Rabi Singh continues to combat the forces of exploitation. Brajanath Rath loves both the red and pink colours of creativity. While Mamata Dash unifies subtle love with divine grace, Aparna invokes the passionate reality with unhesitant candour; Giribala’s poetry contains the feministic dissent within poetic limits. Asutosh Parida is a poet of creative dissent, a voice of conscience and humanist commitment.
Among the next generation poets who are both “young and not-so-young,” Amaresh Patnaik, Haraprasad Paricha Patnaik, Abhaya Kumar Padhi, Rohinikanta Mukherjee, Aswini Kumar Mishra, Hrushikesh Mallick, Bhagirathi Mishra, Satrughna Pandab and Aparna Mohanty have evinced their creative talents in variegated utterances. If one is a quasi-surrealist, another is village-nostalgic. Another moves from seerlike chant to populist polemics.
The latest group of poets who have attracted current attention are the young ones. Although universal inference is not always desirable, it seems that they have not absorbed much from their immediate predecessors. Many of them have taken the mantras from seniors, looking back to the generation earlier. But some of them have also looked around, and looked within. The bold approach, the ‘directspeak’ diction, the open-ended observations have been expanded. And, where all these aspects have been charged with flashes of vision, the results have been excellent. Among the emerging voices of this generation are Manoranjan Dash, Akhil Nayak, Pabitra Mohan Dash, Sucheta Mishra, Basudev Sunani, Sunil Prusty, Ajay Pradhan, Manoj Meher, Arupanand Panigrahi and many others. The oozings and cross-movements have been going on. It is premature to predict the courses of the streams and substreams. Back Contents Next

The third space, the third culture, and the third history

Sura P. Rath, Louisiana State University -- Shreveport
Home as Place: Home is where I began, and where I shall return. In "The Narrative Production of 'Home,' Community, and Political Identity in Asian American Theater," Dorinne Kondo paraphrases Gayatri Spivak in defining home for people on the margins as ‘that which we cannot not want.’ "It stands for a safe place, where there is no need to explain oneself to outsiders; it stands for community" (97).
The logic underlying institutional policies of nativism is complex. Derived from the Latin nasci (to be born), the word nation provides a starting point as it encompasses the domicile family condition of belonging, the ‘natio’ signifying the local community, and a political nation-state. But as Biddy Martin and Chandra Talpade Mohanty suggest, ‘community’ as the product of work, of struggle "is inherently unstable, contextual; it has to be constantly reevaluated in relation to critical political priorities; and it is the product of interpretation, interpretation based on an attention to history." Similarly, Raymond Williams has noted that although "'Nation' as a term is radically connected with 'native,' we are born into relationships which are typically settled in place," and the jump from that primary and ‘placeable’ bonding to anything like the modern nation-state is entirely artificial. Yet, place as a reservoir of collective memories provides instruments of nativism and sameness (identity). These memories are collected in the books, newspapers, and other printed texts, which contribute to the formation of the ‘imaginary community’ that Benedict Anderson outlines.
In Tenement Lover Jessica Hagedorn, a Philipina American musician, performer, and writer, says: "When I think of home now I mean three places. San Francisco Bay area really colored my work. New York is where I live. But Manila will always have a hold on me. I really don’t think of myself as a citizen of one country but as a citizen of the world" (100). Similarly Naim Araidi says in an interview with Smadar Lavie, "I don’t feel grounded anywhere. I have come back to the village, but it feels like a hotel, not home" (55). Similarly, I ask "Where then is my home?" I struggle daily in the town called Shreveport in the bible-belt south of the United States: I teach there; I live there; I write about people who live there. It is my present. But my mind has been shaped by four other places -- Cuttack, Bhubaneswar, New Orleans, and College Station -- each of which can lay its claim as the home base of my psyche, hence my home. Above all, however, it is Balugaon, that clammy, dingy, fish-smelling sultry town on Chilika Lake where I sometimes return when I sing or dream of home. Does my naturalized American citizenship dissolve the past and make me a tabula rasa? Can one be reborn out of nothing, out of a void?
Home as Time: As a function of history, home is the reservoir of public myths and private memories. Mike Featherstone has noted two key features of postmodernism: first, "it entails a loss of confidence in the master narratives of progress and enlightenment," a Western paradigm, and a subsequent recognition of contingency, incoherence, and ambivalence; and second, "a democratization and popularization of forms of knowledge and cultural production and dissemination" (50) which were previously the monopoly of established groups. These, he deduces, are forces that have led to a dehistorized history and replaced it with histories.
To review my postcolonial self, then I must return to the past or to a crossroads of history. Born sometime around the mid-twentieth-century after the Indian national independence, after the declaration of the republic status of the country, I can embrace my postcolonial identity as an Indian. In addition, my early education and training in the indigenous cultural texts, such as the Bhagabata, the Puranas, the Gita -- much of it recited to me at four in the dew-damp mornings in the harvest seasons supposedly to please the gods but more practically, perhaps, to ward off early morning theft from the barn next door -- all make my experience authentic and real. There was little or nothing imagined about my ‘imaginary community’ ; the soil, the sand, the cow dung all were real. The text was as much in the book as it was on the stone steps of the village pond, where a vermilion covered rectangular stone claimed its divine status as a goddess and received morning and evening worshippers. The text was there on the mud walls where the most complex mythic images were meticulously drawn in circles and triangles with jhoti (pureed rice), where gods smiled in their cosmic glee.
But these early essences were coated soon with English poems such as "The boy stood on the burning deck whence all but he had fled" ("Casabianca"), or "There dwelt a miller hale and bold beside the river Dee;/ He worked and sang from morn to night, no lark was blither than he"("Miller of the Dee"); or "Breathes there the man with soul so dead, who to himself hath never said, this is my own, my native land? If such there breathes, go mark him well,/ For him no minstrel song shall swell"; or "Inchcape Rock" or "Ballad of Father Gilligan" or "Abu Ben Adhem." These were poems alien to my experience; they did not speak to my history, nor to my dreams, my future. They were my colonial inheritance, the cocoon that covered up my postcolonial self. They scarred my consciousness indelibly to the point that I still remember those lines. True, these readings were later punctuated with unforgettable lines from Gangadhar Meher and Radhanath Ray, Upendra Bhanja and Kabisurya Baladev, or Godavarish Mishra and Godavarish Mahapatra, and passages from Gopinath Mohanty and Kanhu Charan Mohanty and Fakir Mohan Senapati and Rabindranath Tagore, but the colonial virus turned active later and showed up in my critical veneration for Eliot and his ‘objective correlative.’ I read more Milton than Sarala Das, and dissected with the Derridean and de Manian deconstructive scalpel Oriya poetry by Sitakant Mahapatra, Ramakant Rath, Soubhagya Misra and Jayanta Mohapatra.
Virtual Home/ Virtual History: I began this presentation with a reference to Trishanku, a king in the Hindu epic The Ramayana. In his obsession with going to the heaven with his own body, Trishanku represents the consequences of narcissism; his story includes an encounter between the divine and the human, and the creation of an intermediate virtual space between earth and heaven, but above all it highlights the dichotomy between the body and the spirit. The sage Viswamitra enables King Trishanku to ascend to heaven in/with his own body, but Indra, the king of gods, returns him back to earth to protect the integrity of the gods’ land. As the king falls headlong down through the ethereal space, Viswamitra freezes him and builds a virtual heaven with its own pantheon of gods and angels. The sage is later pacified by a repentant Indra, but Trishanku remains in his third space. Indeed, he is that third space.
And I too am a third space. As I define my diaspora as a transplanted Indian in the United States, I see myself as a colonizer as well as a colonized. In formulating that part of my self that draws on my Indian heritage, I am keenly conscious of the postcolonial blood I share with the millions of Indians. If from half a world away I have the privilege and the luxury to ‘ objectify’ India and my own past, I am not alone. For the 60+ year-olds, those who actually lived under the British Raj, the past was certainly more peaceful and less turbulent than the present. In assimilating my present role as a university teacher and higher education administrator, I not only channel the thinking process of thousands of my students but also evaluate and sometimes redirect the professional activities of my colleagues and friends. Perhaps in me, as in thousands of other immigrants of diaspora who inhabit the third space, live the third culture, and shape the third history, postcolonialism has come full circle, and the trauma of postmodernism has a final relief. Introduction Three Items My Third Displace Three Parts of the Self Here/There/Where Three Homes Works Cited

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The true rebel is the true lover

True criticism, like true revolution, must be born out of love.
The true rebel is the true lover because he loves certain values or ideas very dearly.
He revolts, he criticizes because he wants to move towards a better perception of reality.

Sitakant Mohapatra
Beyond the Word : The Multiple Gestures of Tradition (MLBD)

Dance of the Dervishes and the Sufi Way

MRINALINI SARABHAI The Times of India Saturday, December 17, 2005
Sufism is a teaching based on love. There is a sense of unity of thought which speaks of the fundamental one-ness of all religions. Disharmony and dissent is often caused by language. It is explained that the travellers are the ordinary people of the world. The linguist is the Sufi. When differences of language, meaning and perception are sorted out, only then real teaching can be understood. The Sufi is a mystic who believes in attunement with the whole of existence. 'Sufism is truth without form', wrote Iba El Jalali. The word 'Sufi' in the Arabic means 'pure'. A literary interpretation of Sufi is people clad in camel's wool. It is difficult to define 'Sufism' for the Sufi practices 'alternate detachment and identification with life'. Sufis believe that everyone evolves to a known destiny. Life is both lived and perceived. For more than a thousand years the Hindus and Sufis exchanged ideas and many Sufi sayings were similar to Sanskrit shlokas about human aspiration.
In Sufism, the laws of life were kindness, generosity, good advice, forbearance to enemies, indifference to fools and respect for the learned ones. Jalaluddin Rumi warned: "Judge not the Sufi to be that which you can see of him, my friends". He himself had been transformed when he met Shams of Tabriz, a travelling Dervish. Dervishes were ascetics who founded the Sufi fraternity in Arabia. In their beliefs they unified the inner philosophy of all religious thought, and created a new genre of music and movement. The sacred dance of the Dervishes is said to have happened when Rumi once took a rhythmic turn. This movement unconsciously whirled the skirt of his garment. It formed a circle and with that the dance was created with a group known as the whirling Dervishes. There were varied scholars of Dervishes.
The sect which developed in India was the Naqshbandi, founded by Naqebhand, a great Sufi personality of his time. Rumi's ghazals continue to inspire singers and poets with their artistic reflections of spiritual love through human aspiration. The qawwalis are sung everywhere and combine various music traditions like the khayal, thumri, tarana and others. A marvellous tradition of humanity. I recollect an old song in this context: "They asked me how I knew/ my true love was true/ I of course, replied/ Something here inside/ cannot be denied". While it is difficult to describe Sufism, the emphasis is on perfect renunciation and total absorption in God. As a Sufi master said: "Love is action, action is knowledge; knowledge is truth, truth is love".

Friday, December 16, 2005

Dance is a celebration of the divinity of being

Sharon Lowen has dedicated her life to presenting and promoting excellence in Indian performing arts. Sharon is hailed today as one of the leading international performing artists of three forms of Indian dance: Odissi, Chhau and Manipuri. This is a remarkable achievement for an artist from the U.S.A. who first arrived in India in 1973 after acquiring her Bachelors and Masters degrees in Humanities, Fine Arts, Asian Studies and Dance from the University of Michigan as a Fulbright Scholar to continue her studies of Manipuri and learn Odissi and Chhau. Sharon has made her home in India to dedicate herself to her work as an artist and to promote education in the arts.
A scholar, teacher and performing artist, Sharon has been trained since 1975 in Odissi by the doyen of the art, Padmavibhushan Kelucharan Mohapatra; in Manipuri by Minati Roy from 1969 through 1971 and from 1973 by Guru Singhajit Singh in Delhi and Ranjani Maibi and Thangjam Chaoba Singh in Manipur; in Mayurbhanj Chhau by Late Guru Krishna Chandra Naik and in Seraikella Chhau by Guru Kedarnath Sahoo. She is the first woman soloist of a previously all-male form, responsible for introducing Mayurbhanj Chhau to the United States at the 1978 Asian Dance Festival in Hawaii and later at the Olympic Arts Festival of Masks in Los Angeles and is singularly responsible for getting Chhau presented on Doordarshan' s National Broadcasts. She has also choreographed and performed Odissi dance in Telegu, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi as well as Sanskrit and Oriya for performances and festivals around India, Doordarshan National Indian Television, and internationally.
Dance is a celebration of the divinity of being. In India the art of Dance is a result of thousands of years of refinement and countless cycles of artists and Gurus. Odissi invokes the grace of Lord Jagannatha, the Lord of the Universe, another attribute to Vishnu. Orissa is known as the land of temples and Odissi became an inseparable part of the rituals of the temple since the 9th Century. Odissi dance reflects the sculpturesque poses of temples dating back to the second century, B.C. in the rounded curves and flexions of the style, especially the "Tribanga" or "triple-bend" pose. The fact that this dance has survived so many centuries and has a vitality for us today illustrates how human nature continues to present universal truths through our arts. This is an art not only for connoisseurs, but is intended for all the people to enjoy, to embrace and to share.
Padma Vibhushan Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra is the primary architect in the revival of classical Odissi dance over the past half-century. Past 75 years, he is the undisputed master performing artist, choreographer, teacher and percussionist of Odissi dance. He has received every possible award, has trained most of the leading exponents of the form and is the revered and respected for his genius as an artist all over the world. Sharon had the privilege to study with Kelubabu from 1975 and having Kelubabu present her Odissi and Manipuri performance in Orissa in 1976. He has accompanied her on pakawaj for performances around India and on tour in the U S during the Festival of India – USA and performed together at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC.

The Making of a Guru

Ileana Citaristi, Manohar, thehindu/2001/08/19
A carefully documented piece, this is the work of a lifetime of learning and adulation. Ileana Citaristi, accomplished Odissi dancer, who trained under the great Kelucharan Mohapatra, has, in her work, recalled the times and works of the greatest Odissi dancer that India has seen. Her book opens with the story of Kelucharan's childhood, its ups and downs and how furtively he entered first the world of dance. But Baba Kela, as he was rechristened by his parents, was destined to greater glory and fame and even at a young age had the makings of a good dancer/ actor. Despite the limitations of adequate reference points as well as documented work, Citaristi has done a commendable job in putting together the first ever documented version of his life. As his student, she has had access not only to Kelucharan but also to some of his closest associates as well as being party to the tremendous growth that he managed to carve out for Odissi dance. The book has some rare photographs of the guru and his various associates. Even with age Kelucharan's ardour and passion for his dance form has not diminished. He continues his role as a mentor to his students. And though the book is not a slick production and its writing is rather pedantic, it is definitely a goldmine of information.

I am an incurable romantic and the Gita Govinda enchanted me

My life in myth Ileana Citaristi Hindustan Times Friday, December 16, 2005
I have now been in India for twenty six years. I have a house in Bhubaneswar, overlooking the sacred lake, Bindu Sagar. Since 1979, my life is that of an Odissi dancer. I was born in Bergamo in North Italy and was raised as a good Catholic girl. I rebelled at sixteen and began to gather all kinds of new experiences in life. I first saw Indian dance in a Kathakali demonstration in my hometown by Guru Krishna Namboodiri in January 1978. Within six months, I was in Kerala and after a three-month workshop gave a full-dress Kathakali performance. I was so charged by this, that I could not go back quietly home as if nothing had happened.
My guru directed me to Orissa and reigning dancer Sanjukta Panigrahi. I saw Odissi for the first time but I was still under the spell of Kerala. I went home to Bergamo, with new movements to use in my original metier as a theatre person. In 1979, when I came back and planned to divide the year between Kerala and Orissa, to research movement for my own production of the Greek myth of Narcissus. I went to Cuttack and met Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra - and stayed put for six years. I am often asked what attracts me to the content of Odissi, which is a rich world of mythology. The Gita Govinda of Jayadeva enchanted me from day one, with its poetic beauty. I am an incurable romantic and the love of Radha-Krishna touched my soul.
Since I came from a doctorate in philosophy (with my thesis on `Psychoanalysis and Eastern Mythology'), Odissi became a seamless continuation of my intellectual and spiritual search. Odissi is my language and Hindu myth and its content which is rich in symbols and emotions. Its universal appeal seems to work for every kind of audience. And no matter how many new items I prepare, my mother always wants to see Sita Haran with Jatayu Moksham. The drama element is personally important to me and my repertoire has strong characters with strong emotions: Draupadi, Ekalavya, Chitrangada and Sita. Among the aspects of God, I can never tire of addressing Shiva and dance many items about him in both Odissi and Chhau. innervoice@hindustantimes.com

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Brecht helped me to understand Indian theatre

SHE has directed over 55 plays with husband Nissar Allana designing the lights and stage. She lectures on theatre and stagecraft in American universities and runs the Dramatic Art and Design Academy, New Delhi, with him. But then, with theatre legend Ebrahim Alkazi for father and Alyque Padamsee for maternal uncle, did Amal Allana have any other choice? Theatre as a tactile experience GOWRI RAMNARAYAN The Hindu Magazine Sunday, Dec 11, 2005
When I decided to skip college and join the National School of Drama (of which he was then the director) my father said, "Rubbish!" and flounced out of the room. In the class he used to single me out for harsh criticism. But his corrections were extremely detailed, precise and dispassionate. He has a gift for that. Till today he never talks about my work except to offer bits of useful criticism.
Staging "Mother Courage" meant a catalogue on Brecht in India. So everything becomes a multi-level learning experience. My father is an Arab, my mother a Gujarati Khoja with a memsahib upbringing. I was another Salman Rushdie, a midnight's child, rootless, not knowing what to do with my Western education. I'm glad NSD took me away from English. My father too said work in Hindi, not English, but I thought do these plays have the depth of Shakespeare? I'd seen Indian theatre as a foreigner, regional theatre as an outsider. Doing a course in East Germany helped me to put things together. Brecht helped me to understand Indian theatre objectively, analytically. I spent time looking at Kabuki and Noh in Japan. I've done them all — "Adhe Adhure", "Himmat Mai", "Char Chaughi", "Begum Barve"... but my orientation is different. My current interest is the theatre of the cities, the culture of the metropolis.

Theatre is a tactile experience for me, rustle of the skirts, dupatta flying... My work is Indian through the sensuality of the physical experience. I read the text and throw it away. I approach the people, not the story. In (Mahesh Elkunchwar's) "Sonata", I linked the three women to the larger history of paintings where women artists like Nalini Malani and Arpana Caur were talking about the same fragmentation. As I got disenchanted with words my plays became more physical. And music — or soundscapes — took over what words do.
I'm older now and feel I owe it to the theatre world for whatever it's worth to do my best. Like everything else I do I took it on more to learn than to teach. I don't want people saying, "O God, Alkazi's daughter's here. He was a tyrant, now comes dragon Number Two". In the theatre, you can't build anything if it's draconian. Everyone is an artiste, has creative ability, ego! They can't give their best without encouragement, appreciation. I've been talking to the faculty, administration and repertory, to identify the problems. A lot of confusions are due to lack of management schedules. I'd like to take up things area by area, but also with a lot of love and affection.
I want to have discussions with training institutes across the country, with people who have their own teaching modules. We've had many meetings already. I want to develop a syllabus relevant to our times, and a powerful training programme. We have the software in talented people. We must create the right hardware — strategies of teaching and learning, start courses in theatre management, criticism, playwrighting.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

the Impersonal Principle

Education Through Art Nita Mathur © 1998 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi
As empiricism, experimentation and demonstrability reign over the world order, there is a deepening silent crisis in education marked by eroding wisdom, depleting values and denuding self-knowledge. This crisis cannot be resolved by improving literacy rate figures, nor by making policy interventions, much less by creating data banks and building up information storehouses.
The word ‘education’ is often employed synonymously with literacy, particularly in bureaucratic and political parlance, as a kind of divine weapon — the brahmastra to combat all human problems. Material and human resources are hence directed towards positing and achieving formidable targets of total literacy. Education programmes lay emphasis on learning to read and write as also on specialising in various academic disciplines.
Knowledge such as this is experiential. It develops from and survives on the cultural substratum of the people who create and use it. Thus education consists of beholding, receiving, embellishing and handing down traditional wisdom. A piece of Rabari embroidery, for instance, is also a kind of text, a visual text quite different from written text. The Madhubanis aspire to depict their legends, re-create their own lives and transcend worldly existence through their paintings. A painting is subtle and replete with meaning and message, carrying substance beyond the contours of figures and spread of colours. The patterns and motifs of trees, birds, fish and others, singular and in association, portray the gamut of beliefs, concepts and understandings, in essence, the life-style and world-view of the Madhubani people. Elders sit in the midst of children who assist them at various stages. The technique and the conceptual context gets passed on from one generation to the next through verbal articulations and depictions as part of collective social memory.
Conveyed by oratory, preserved by memory and transmitted by legacy, this system of education is related with the everyday life of a people, which makes it meaningful and fulfilling. It becomes a pathway to self-knowledge and truth. The many branches of knowledge and the arts share the cosmogonic base. As Saraswati (1994) has pointed out, the Rathvas and Saoras regard god as the first painter and, interestingly, the painting itself as god. The act of painting thus gets interpreted as ‘reading’ the god. The people receive inspiration for painting in dreams and in altered states of consciousness. While the content of Rathva paintings derives from the pictorial history of the universe — the work of the first painter — the subject-matter of Saora pictographs is life in the underworld as revealed to the priest in dreams and in a state of trance.
The paintings, songs, dance, theatre — all employ the human body, sensibility and sensitivity to transcend its own limitations to achieve confluence with the Impersonal Principle. The artists, then, are yogis or sadhakas engaged in spiritual pursuits. The inner silence, contemplation and refinement transmute the outer chaos and noise into creative works. This makes for rhythm, harmony and orderliness in the world around.
The concept of art here is not confined to exotica. The artist is not just one of a select few constituting the elite. Each person, being equipped with faculties of expression and appreciation in one or other medium, is an artist. The free lines drawn in leisure by a child are as much a product of art as a portrait drawn by a serious painter; the nautanki of Uttar Pradesh and the rhythmic, co-ordinated patterned movements of village women are as much dance as a Bharatanatyam sequence performed by a celebrated dancer. The experience and participation herein are more important than the stylisation and perfection of the finished product. The issue is one of realising one’s potential and developing it as an integrated aspect of growing up.
An essential requisite is the incorporation of the aesthetic dimension into education not as training in skills but as an agency for developing a synchronous, holistic life-style and perspective. The position of dance in this context is extremely important, both as a component of education and as a receptacle of the elements of education. The dance movements characterised by rhythm and symmetry are known to stimulate the various bodily systems, enhancing their power and efficiency. This is closely followed by the development of balance and proportion in the body. To children, dance unveils the many channels through which emotions and states of mind may be expressed. There are distinct gestures, postures and facial expressions that communicate the shades and intensities of rasas or inner states and aesthetic experience.
Dance performs the cathartic function of releasing pent-up emotions and drives. The control and discipline of the body so arduously acquired by children in dance is inseparable from that of the mind. In identifying with the enacted character and the situation of dance, children are lifted out of the disturbing unconscious realms of the mind. They employ various defence mechanisms — compensation, atonement, self-actualisation — in the dance situation as means to surmount worrying thoughts and muddled instincts. This prepares the mind for comprehending and retaining instruction in schools. Previous Page Contents of the Book Next Page

Odissi, odhni and áuchitya

Culture is dynamic - Priyambada Hohanty-Hejmadi
e-mail: mohantyhejmadi@hotmail.com (In response to Putting the record straight by Bibhuti Mishra) December 6, 2005: I have gone through the Ramli Ibrahim Odissi costume controversy materials-articles in the October and November newsletters. I am grateful to see that Mr. Bibhuti Mishra has referred to my Odissi performance at the First National Youth Festival in 1954 which is taken as the discovery of Odissi as a new classical dance in the National scale. I refer to myself as the grand old lady of Odissi!
I have seen the original maharis and gotipuas in the early 1940's and believe me, the Odissi dress has undergone some changes keeping the Orissan tradition in mind. It may not be proper to comment on Ramli group costume without seeing the performance but baring any part of the body has not been our tradition. During a lecture demonstration on the Origin, Evolution and Emergence of Odissi dance in the Nehru Centre in London in 1999, I was asked questions about the relevance of the present costume sans revelations when our temple architecture has alasakanyas with a lot of revelations.
My answer was culture is dynamic and therefore the dance and costumes have been influenced by the aesthetics of the period. We have modified the costume to some extent with the present day culture and aesthetics in mind, preserving the decorum in attire thus upholding the dignity of the classical style. This should put our responsibilities as artistes in proper prospective if we choose classical dance as our profession.
Putting the record straight - Bibhuti Mishra, Bhubaneswar
(in response to Ramli Ibrahim's interview "A storm in a teacup") October 14, 2005: I read with interest Ramli Ibrahim's interview on what is being called the 'odhni' controversy. Obviously he has been fed a lot of lies and half-truths by people who have a commercial interest in him! That's why Ramli has completely misunderstood the situation and his reactions betray his frustration and intolerance for criticism.
Ramli's dancing prowess is not questioned and even in my review I talked about the group dance being a visual spectacle. What was pointed out was the deviation in Odissi costume, its 'áuchitya' as Shanta Serbjeet Singh would say and the changes in original choreography. Dancers dancing in tight, low cut blouses with navel rings dangling from bare midriff, was found a 'violation' of what Odissi costume is/should be; it was in bad taste too. If some people found it to be of good taste they are entitled to their opinions. But the record has to be put straight.
Ramli says that Sutra has always promoted this costume. But when he danced here on earlier occasions, he never had his co-dancers wearing such costumes! How come? And Guru Durga Charan Ranbir (with whom Ramli has been working) says that when he got Ramli to dance, he never allowed such costumes. Guru Ranbir cites the example of Khajuraho dance festival performance and is even prepared to show video cassettes and CDs to prove his point that he has never been associated with such a costume.
Guru Ranbir is a star disciple of the late Guru Debaprasad. Then there is Gajendra Panda too. Many of the disciples are leading dancers like Sangeeta Dash, Manjushri Panda, Pratibha Panda, Sujata Mishra - all of Debaprasad style. Why do none of them dance wearing the costume of Ramli's lady dancers if Debaprasad approved, nay advocated it? Why do gurus like Ranbir and Gajendra not subscribe to it? Only Ramli who learnt for a few years from the late Guru was told to wear such costume and nobody else? He talks about Indrani Rehman, the lone exception. She danced mostly outside and if Ramli says he belongs to Rehman school, not Debaprasad school, that is understandable
He is wrong when he says that most Odissi dancers wear flimsy see-through material, a transparent sash. Because they don't and even for those who do wear 'odhni,' the blouses are not tight low-cut ones as Ramli got his dancers to wear. For example, Sangeeta Dash, a star disciple of Debaprasad has the saree draped over the upper part of her body, a style followed by most Odissi dancers today, and not transparent sash. He says, "However, I am also aware that the 'odhni' was a contemporary and not a traditional embellishment of the Odissi costume created during the 'Jayantika' (crusaders of contemporary Odissi) times, a group out of which the late Debaprasad eventually opted out." This requires a bit of elaboration.
Does he mean that Debaprasad opted out of Jayantika because of his difference of opinion over the costume? Nothing could be farthest from the truth as no other Debaprasad disciple follows Ramli's example. And what is this distinction between contemporary and traditional costume of Odissi dance? Does he mean traditionally Odissi dancers danced without any drapery? If tradition is cultural custom and usage, the very first dancer who danced 'Odissi' (the terms is hardly five decades old!) on stage with Odissi getting a separate identity was Priyambada Mohanty Hejmadi at a youth festival in Delhi and she wore the costume with her upper part draped. Since then, the same costume with little changes here and there but never a bare blouse is being followed and hence it is traditional. 'Jayantika' gave it the stamp of approval.
Traditionally the dances from which Odissi evolved i.e Gotipua and Mahari too were not guilty of such aberration. Gotipuas had the saree draped over their upper part although they were young boys! And Mahari dance was a 'bhitara seva' (secret service) of Lord Jagannath. When it came to stage, the blouse they wore were of thick cloth and had a V shaped zari border in front besides a number of necklaces hiding the bosom.
If he and the intellectuals who support him cite temple sculptures, then Odissi dancers have to go nude! It is just like saying that since according to myths Goddess Durga as 'Mahishasuramardini' had no clothes on when he killed the demon Mahisha, anyone who enacts a dance drama 'Mahishasuramardini' should also be nude! Even the idols are made to wear clothes! And his argument about his dancers being young and thin and hence the traditional accoutrements would not suit them is nothing short of funny. There are any number of young and thin dancers wearing traditional costume and looking none the worse for it!
Orissa has welcomed many foreigners who have come to learn Odissi and someone like Ileana Citaristi has settled here. So his comments about there being intolerance because of his being a foreigner or a Muslim (Sorry, no bigotry in Orissa, Ramli. Your friends are poisoning you for their own interests) or Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra billboard being there as proof of his brand of Odissi being a threat to others, are baseless and ludicrous. Incidentally Ileana has written an e mail to him (a copy of which came to me as I am an involved party) on this.
I went through your interview carried in Narthaki; I would like to assure you, there is absolutely no foundation for your fears of sabotage, boycott or jealousy by rival groups. I am in Orissa since the last 26 years and you can imagine, being an outsider myself, if I have not been the target of local parochialism and narrow-mindedness by a certain section of the society ( more from the part of government officials than the common man). We, the students of Kelucharan Mohapatra, don't have a forum as such and we are not so many either in Orissa. The fact that the bill board of Kelucharan Mohapatra's award function was standing at the gate of Rabindra Mandap was absolutely a coincidence of dates and nothing else; I also had put a big board with the publicity of my festival (5th of September) at the entry at the time of the Sanjukta Panigrahi's memorial function (24th,25th,26th of August); we obviously do this to advertise the forthcoming programs , since we cater to similar type of audience.
There was no threat of sabotage. It is just the figment of imagination of some clever people who were trying to make a fast buck at Ramli's expense, perhaps giving him a picture of imaginary Taliban in Bhubaneswar! Hope Ramli is suitably assuaged by Ileana's assurances and understands the handiwork of mischief making by vested interests. Contrary to what he says, Bhubaneswar is the easiest of places without any problem or rabid fanaticism.
Bad reviews did not come from one writer, there were others too who wrote about it in the local English and vernacular press. But even it came from one, i.e me, there is nothing to be surprised about it. There are not many critics in Orissa and I have been one for the last two decades (as art and culture is my beat) and I have written for a number of national newspapers and magazines. I have been a critic for The Indian Express, The Pioneer and am now with the Hindu.
I have all the respect for Sitakanta Mohapatra and Jatin Das but I am sorry they are not authorities on Odissi dance. Dhirendranath Patnaik is at present President of Orissa Sangeet Natak Akademi. In fact, Patnaik, a founding father of Odissi, along with the dance gurus brought Odissi to what it is today. A prominent dance scholar, this is what Patnaik says about Ramli's costume, "I have not seen the dance but I saw the pictures and I found the costume in bad taste. We at 'Jayantika' decided on the costume and bare blouses were a strict no-no. It offends the eye and aesthetic. I call upon everyone to preserve the sanctity of Odissi classical dance." Incidentally, Patnaik attended the meeting and rally where there was a protest against such distortion in Odissi custom and costume. Guru Durga Charan Ranbir joined too and condemned such aberrations. But let me clarify that it was not against any individual; it was simply issue based protest on 9th October 2005 in Bhubaneswar. A number of dance gurus, dancers and musicians -celebrities in Orissa - joined the protest rally and meeting. Does their opinion matter? Or is it just Mohapatra and Das?
Now about Shanta Serbjeet Singh's piece. She is entitled to her opinion. And if she finds bare blouses in good taste so be it. If the body is ungainly how come a bare blouse would make it visually appealing? Anyway it is her aesthetic and I have no quarrel with that. But others are also entitled to their opinion and please, the deviation in Odissi costume is not a trivia. Classical is disciplined and dignified and anything that mars it can be justifiably pulled up. In fact even though in Kerala, rural women go about without draping their blouses, the classical dance there has dancers very decently and suitably covered!
I am sorry Shantaji is wide off the mark when she says that Orissa has not produced any dancer of calibre after Sanjukta and should try to produce a Ramli. Ramli is good, but there are others, male and female who are as good if not better. From Oopalie Operajita through Aruna Mohanty, Sangeeta Dash to Sujata Mohapatra, we have had brilliant dancers. From Naba Mishra and Bichitrananda Swain to Ramesh, Manoranjan, Amulya and a whole lot. And ask Guru Gangadhar Pradhan whether there are brilliant male dancers produced by him or not. Praise Ramli. But please don't give sweeping statements to discount others.
Regarding the article, 'The costumes of the Sutra Odissi dancers of Malaysia: A dialogue with textual and substantial evidences,' I would just say this. One of the writers is Soubhagya Pathy, the son of Dr. Dinanath Pathy. The senior Pathy has had his works reviewed by me, had my papers in seminars organised by him and my articles in a book edited by me. I hope that answers the question my credibility and positioning on the national scene.

Bhubaneswar based journalist Bibhuti Mishra passed away at the age of 45, on November 29, 2005 following a massive heart attack. He was a well known art critic, connected with various cultural organizations and newspapers.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Essays on Performing Arts of India

Back to the Roots : Essays on Performing Arts of India/Jiwan Pani. New Delhi, Manohar, 2004, 124 p., illus., ISBN 81-7304-560-7. Contents: Foreword. 1. Dharma is not religion. 2. Yajna for the eyes. 3. The doctrine of natya. 4. Guru-shishya parampara. 5. The rasa theory. 6. The six limbs of dance. 7. The system and tradition of Odissi music. 8. Krishna in Odissi dance. 9. The tradition of Mahari dance. 10. Ballad singing traditions of Orissa. 11. Tradition and innovation in Odissi. 12. Krishna in Indian dance. 13. Kavitt-the poetry of dance. 14. Indian folk theatre. 15. The Chhau dances. 16. Shadow theatre: the ancient movie.
"Back to the Roots is a collection of Jiwan Pani's articles which have been put together themewise. This book reflects his wide-ranging interests: the cult of Jagannatha, an individualistic and an in-depth study of the Geetagovinda, the Oriya systems of music and the third school along with Carnatic and Hindustani, his numerous scripts for dance-dramas, tele-serials and films, his deep study and understanding of Hindu and Buddhist systems of philosophy. These articles only go to prove that Jiwan Pani was a leading scholar of traditional Indian performing arts and Indian aesthetics. This handsome volume with numerous photographs is a celebration of the true vidwan that Jiwan Pani was." (jacket)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A passage from India

by Jay Dubashi
The Hindustan Times, 25 June 2003
This day marks the birth centenary of George Orwell, born 100 years ago on June 25, 1903, in Motihari, then in Bengal. After the partition of Bengal, Motihari became part of Bihar. Orwell is thus a Bengali, Bihari, Indian and an Englishman, and also a Burmese, having worked in Burma as a member of the Imperial Police Service, when Burma was part of India. But it is not as a policeman that we remember Orwell. After he chucked his job in Burma, he returned to England and became a writer. A socialist writer, who authored classics such as Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four.
Orwell was born as Eric Blair and hailed from Essex. The pen name was inspired by the river that winds through the town. He wrote several novels and essays before he became famous for Animal Farm. The book is a thinly veiled allegory on communism and how a revolution on an animal farm went sour after a pig called Napoleon started lording over other animals. It was, of course, an attack on Russian communism, but surprisingly written at the height of World War II when Russia was an ally of Britain and America. Not surprisingly, he had great difficulty in getting the book published. It was finally brought out by a little known publisher called Warburg in August 1945. Four years after Animal Farm, in June 1949, came Nineteen Eighty Four, which heralded him as a major novelist of the 20th century. Six months later, Orwell was dead.
I came to know Orwell a year or so after Animal Farm got published. I first met him at a dinner which London Majlis, an organisation of Indian students in London, had arranged for its annual day. I was taken to a table occupied by three persons whom I had never met before: E.M. Forster, author of A Passage to India, Stephen Spender, a poet, and George Orwell. I sat next to Orwell. I had, of course, heard of Orwell and had, in fact, corresponded with Penguin for the rights to translate the book into a couple of Indian languages.
After dinner, some of us lingered in the street for a while, then I started walking along with Orwell. We were about to enter the tube when Orwell said he would like to look up some friends in a pub in Leicester Square. It was a small pub but very friendly and Orwell had a couple of beers. He said he spent a few days in the week in the offices of the Tribune, a leading socialist paper edited by Jennie Lee, wife of Aneurin Bevan, who was at the time a minister in Attlee’s cabinet. He said I was welcome to visit him there anytime. Orwell didn’t talk much about himself. But he did tell us that he was now writing a novel, his first after Animal Farm, though he had not yet given it a title. He dropped hints that it would be about a new world that was likely to arise if the communists took over. This was 1948 or thereabouts, almost a year after the financial crisis that finished Britain as an imperial power.
A few months later Orwell’s new novel, Nineteen Eighty Four, came out. By that time, Orwell had become so famous that the release made front-page news. Orwell’s publishers invited me to a reception for the launch of the novel. However, Orwell was not there and my inquiries about him were met with polite excuses. Actually Orwell was indeed in London, but in a hospital not far from India House. He was suffering from tuberculosis and lay in University Hospital in Russell Square. I asked him whether he was still keen to visit India. “Oh, yes,” he said, “don’t forget, I am an Indian and was born there.” He could not go to Switzerland and died in the hospital a few days after I had met him, on January 21, 1950. He was only 46.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A concern for the meaning of life

Katz, Claire Elise 1964- "Levinas--Between Philosophy and Rhetoric: The "Teaching" of Levinas’s Scriptural References"Philosophy and Rhetoric - Volume 38, Number 2, 2005, pp. 159-171 Penn State University PressExcerpt Philosophy and Rhetoric 38.2 (2005) 159-171
The "Teaching" of Levinas's Scriptural References Claire Elise Katz

In an interview titled "On Jewish Philosophy," Emmanuel Levinas illuminates the connection that he sees between philosophical discourse and the role of midrash in interpreting the Hebrew scriptures. His interviewer immediately expresses surprise at Levinas's comments that suggested he saw the traditions of philosophy and biblical theology as in some sense harmonious (quoted in Robbins 2001, 239). Levinas responds by elaborating on this connection he sees. For him, the lived experience of Judaism is above all a sense of belonging to humanity and, in turn, to a supreme order of responsibility (240). Although his intellectual life focused on the sacred texts of Judaism, this life included non-Jewish books, which he believed expressed a similar concern or a similar responsibility—a concern for the meaning of life. This list of such books includes Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, The Miser, and The Misanthrope, in addition to the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.
In Levinas's view, these novels are not exercises of philosophy per se; as mentioned above, they express the same concerns that occupy philosophy, but they express these concerns in a different idiom. They do not offer a philosophical argument; instead, they use figurative language and literary narrative to convey their messages. By drawing this distinction between philosophy and literature, Levinas appears to have divided the written word into two categories: philosophy, on the one hand, and literary texts, on the other. Yet readers of his philosophical work cannot help but notice his frequent references to literary sources.

Red earth and pouring rain

Red earth and pouring rain: Powerful imagery S. THEODORE BASKARAN
The Hindu Sunday, July 01, 2001
Since June this year, an English translation of a Tamil poem from the Sangam anthology is on display in the trains in the London Underground. The original poem, in Tamil script, is also featured along with the English version. In 1986, encouraged by the Poetry Society, short poems of five or six lines were displayed in a special show. It proved so popular that poetry display has since become a permanent feature in the trains. Funded by the Arts Council of England, the poems are printed in uniform sized enamel plates and displayed inside the coaches. Copies of these displays are sold as posters and are sought after as souvenirs.
The Tamil poem that is exhibited now, the oldest to be featured, is from Kurunthogai, a collection of 400 poems on love, ascribed to the first three centuries A.D.. This is the most popular and off-quoted of the Sangam anthology. When the team of selectors for Poems on the Underground started looking for the original text, Nalini Prasad, curator of the South Indian Languages section of the British Library stepped in. The library has in its holdings, a Kurunthogai text, published in 1915 by Vithyarathnagara Press at Vellore. Tirumaligai Sowriperumalarangam of Tirukannapuram had written the annotation. (There were later editions with annotation by U. Ve. Swaminatha Ayyer.
The English version, by A. K. Ramanujan, has been taken from his book Poems of Love and War (1985). The credit of introducing the splendours of Sangam literature to the English-speaking world in our times goes largely to Ramanujan. He seems to be able to capture with ease the quiddity and the texture of these poems and contextualise them. One has only to read the Interior Landscape, a translation of Kurunthogai, to get an idea of his abilities as a translator. His "Afterward" at the end of this book is the best introduction to Sangam literature I have read. The poem is titled "Red Earth and Pouring Rain". In the background of authors of many works remaining anonymous, in Tamil literary tradition there is this practice of identifying a poet by a phrase or word from his poem. Thus the author of this poem is Sembulapeyaneerar, literally "The poet of red earth and pouring rain".
The poem is about two lovers uniting and the man reassuring her of his love. The powerful imagery in the words "red earth and pouring rain" is so evocative, standing at once for the union in love and also for a geographical context. Evidently, it is this line that inspired the title of Vikram Chandra's recent English novel, Red Earth and Pouring Rain. In Interior Landscape, Ramanujan explains his philosophy of translation. "The effort is to try and make a non-Tamil reader experience in English something of what a native experiences when he reads classical Tamil poems. Anyone translating a poem into foreign language is, at the same time, trying to translate a foreign reader into a native one."

Monday, December 05, 2005

6 July

A code-breaking book which aims to change the image of William Shakespeare and reveal him as a subversive who embedded dangerous political messages in his work is to be published in Britain. Shakespeare was a political rebel who wrote in code, claims author Vanessa Thorpe, arts and media correspondent The Observer Sunday August 28, 2005
Far from being an ambitious entertainer who played down his Catholic roots under a repressive Elizabethan regime, Shakespeare took deliberate risks each time he took up his quill, according to Clare Asquith's new book Shadowplay. She argues that the plays and poems are a network of crossword puzzle-like clues to his strong Catholic beliefs and his fears for England's future. Aside from being the first to spot this daring Shakespearean code, Asquith also claims to be the first to have cracked it.
'It has not been picked up on before because people have not had the complete context,' she explained this weekend. 'I am braced for flak, but we now know we have had the history from that period wrong for a long time because we have seen it through the eyes of the Protestant, Whig ascendancy who, after all, have written the history.' It is now widely accepted that the era was not a period of political consensus, says Asquith. Instead, it was a time in which opposition voices were banished and censorship meant the burning of illegal pamphlets and printed works. As a result the Catholic resistance, which had been going for 70 years by the time Shakespeare was writing, had already developed its own secret code words; a subversive communication system which the playwright developed further in his work. 'They inevitably had a hidden language, and Shakespeare used it rather like the composer Shostakovich used political codes in the 20th century,' she said.
Asquith, the wife of a British diplomat who was posted to Moscow and Kiev during the Cold War, says that while she was living in the Soviet Union she began to understand how 'dissident meanings' worked in live theatre. Shakespeare, she claims, adopted some of the more general Catholic code terms that were current, such as the use of the words 'tempest' or 'storm' to signify England's troubles, but he also used new cyphers. Asquith argues, for example, that his obsession with the theme of romantic love was much more than a crowd pleaser. Constancy in love was Shakespeare's way of alluding to the importance of a true faith in the 'old religion', she says. More specifically, his puns and metaphors often circled around certain key phrases. For instance, to be 'sunburned' or 'tanned', as are his heroines Viola, Imogen and Portia, was to be close to God and so understood as a true Catholic.
Already hailed as a triumph of scholarship by writer and leading Catholic thinker Piers Paul Read (who wrote: 'It is rare when a work of such painstaking scholarship is so dramatic, important and exciting to read') and by Tom Paulin (who has called Asquith 'an inspired and compelling code-breaker'), the new book also makes the startling suggestion that Shakespeare studied covertly at an Oxford University college in order to gain such a wide-ranging literary knowledge. This suggestion goes against the work of earlier scholars who have explained away the poet's extraordinary learning as simply the product of a rigorous Elizabethan grammar school education. 'You do get new insights into his life if you look at the code,' she said. 'He must have gone up to Oxford, as many Catholics did at the time, by finding a sympathetic college, such as Hertford, but not officially signing on.' To join as an undergraduate would have meant having to forswear his religion officially, Asquith added.
By looking closely at scenes which include particularly baffling banter to the modern ear, Asquith claims to be able to prove her case. In the first scene of Much Ado About Nothing, for example, bemusing references to 6 July are used to tease the hero, Benedick. 'Mock not, mock not,' he replies, 'ere you flout old ends any further, examine your consciences'. To Elizabethan Catholics, Asquith argues, this was a highly significant date. It was on 6 July that Henry VIII executed Sir Thomas More, his Chancellor, for refusing to acknowledge the monarch as the supreme head of the Church in England. More had become a role model for 'recusants' or dissident English Catholics. The significance of the date was deepened for Catholics when the young Edward VI, Henry VIII's fervently Protestant son, also died on 6 July - a coincidence that was viewed as a judgment on his heretic father. 'This is why Benedick puts a stop to the banter,' says Asquith. 'His friends have gone too far. Mock not old ends, he says - the deaths of Thomas More and Edward are not a laughing matter.'
The book, set to cause controversy among experts, is full of such detailed analysis and reads, as historian Antonia Fraser has said, 'like a literary detective story.' What's in a name? Decoding the Bard: 'Words, words, words,' said Shakespeare's Hamlet. But the words used by the subversive Shakespeare in his plays and poems disguised a hidden pro-Catholic message, according to controversial new research.
  • Sunburn: The sun represented divinity, and so sunburn denotes closeness to God. Shakespeare described himself as 'tanned' in Sonnet 62.
  • Turtle dove: A traditional image for the apostles, used to signify those who remained faithful in the face of persecution.
  • Nightingale: The story of Philomela, who was turned into a nightingale, was an image of the desecrated church and its covert protests.
  • Red rose: A term used by Catholics for their 'old, beautiful' religion.
  • Dark: The new, Protestant religion, associated with black print and sober dress.
  • Five: Devotion to the five wounds of Christ led to patterned emblems on the banners borne against the new regime. Shakespeare uses it in the form of flowers, birthmarks or heraldic blazons as a marker of Catholicism.

The other worlds

Sri Aurobindo passed away 55 years back, on December 5, 1950. He is perceived as a great soul but his writings have yet to earn the reception they deserve. The vast body of his work and the difficult diction he employs, may be the reason to deter the common reader; but even the scholar is not enamoured enough of them. The most plausible factor that seems to be responsible is Sri Aurobindo’s insistence on spirituality while discussing secular themes such as politics, poetry, the arts, or education.

The convenient demarcation between secular and the sacred suits the academic approach. But for Sri Aurobindo this is a faulty notion because the causal aspect is eclipsed. The linkage between the two is less of the manner of an umbilical chord and more in the nature of interpenetrating imbrications. If our sensory and scientific construct of the world fails to accommodate such a picture, it must be understood as a lack.

Astronomy as an ancient passion has helped us to know about the outer universe. Astrology, too, by talking of stars and planets attunes us to their subtle influences. The different abodes of gods as described by various mythologies, also, permit us certain familiarity of the other worlds. But we rarely take their effect on our lives any seriously. And the task of Sri Aurobindo is to hammer the modern mind so as to rid it from secular superstitions.

The inner and the other worlds are a consistent theme in his poem, Savitri. Composed through the years from Quantum mechanics to nuclear holocaust, this modern epic puts a stamp of authority on the unseen fecund worlds and their inhabitants who are inextricably linked to our motions and emotions. To recognize this reality seriously, is what Savitri demands from its readers.

The different parts of our being and consciousness, as delineated by Sri Aurobindo in his Integral Yoga system, are nothing but the other worlds. We can well imagine our plights as puppets when disparate worlds are very much in the play to pull the strings. Somewhat similar to the insight offered by Baudrillard that it is the object which uses and employs us and not the other way round that we ordinarily perceive. But then, how do we benefit by this concept in our practical life?

That there runs a perpetual consonance between the seen and the unseen, might seem, at times, hard to digest, but a poetic impression can be allowed to swim aloft. The process should further deepen in the realm of creative imagination leading to a faint intellectual recognition. Since the notion runs counter to our egoistic autonomy, it is bound to take a long time to percolate down to the distant and defiant impulses. And regular recitation of Savitri helps here; its mantric effect casting its reach down to our body cells.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Memories and expectations

A.V. Ashok
We cannot read all the pages of a novel at once and at no point in the novel can the reader command an instantaneous and total view of the entire novel. The reader has to turn the pages and it takes time to read. As though taking cue from the ancient and classical Indian theorists of the role of memory in the sequence of a sentence, Israeli critics like Meir Sternberg (1978) and Menakhem Perry (1979) have examined the role of memory in narrative sequence. The order of arrangement of events in a text generates a narrative movement that exploits the reader's memory of earlier episodes or "primary effect" (Rimmon-Kenan 120 ) and also subsequently subverts the memory of the text in a "recency effect" ( Rimmom-Kenan 120 ). At any given page in the reading of a novel that Wolfgang Iser calls "theme" (97) which offers only a limited view of the text that he calls "horizon" (97), the reader is supported by a selective memory of the text and filled with anticipation of what lies ahead in the text. But any page has the power to alter the reader's memory of prior events and also belie the reader's earlier anticipation. A "wandering viewpoint" (118), the reader passes through a succession of different "themes" and "horizons" with a constant teasing readjustment of memories and expectations.
Of all literary forms, narrative fiction achieves the most imaginative and complex negotiation with sequence. The extraordinary aesthetic freedom of the narrative imagination in its use and representation of linearity makes the novel the supreme art of sequence and time. Russian Formalism of the early twentieth-century speaks of how the narrative imagination redesigns the bare and chronological sequence of the "fabula" ("story") through innovative techniques of narration into the visionary enchantment of the "sjuzet" ("narrative discourse"). The higher kinds of literary narratives excel in an esoteric defamiliarization of sequence into metaphors of time and epiphanies of human fate. Quite apart from the structure of a novel, even a sentence in a novel can in a marvelous aesthetics of narrative syntax dramatize a complex philosophy of sequence and time.